Monday, August 25, 2008


Tonight, as I was cleaning out the old mac mailbox, I came across a blast from the past - a series of emails I had sent out to friends and family during my four days doing GOTV in Las Vegas, NV for the '04 election.

Unlike this year, where we have a proactive campaign with a strong ground operation in all the swing states, the '04 GOTV effort was a bit of a crazy-quilt, with a number of activist groups,, SEIU, and ACT UP (not to mention the Kerry campaign) were all running ops in the four days leading to election day.

It was an exhausting and unforgettable experience. And even though we ended up losing Nevada by a scant %2, after reading through these "dispatches" I know it wasn't for lack of trying.

Dispatch from Vegas: Dogs, bad lawn art, evil trailer park Biddies and getting out the vote.........

Oct. 30, 2004

Will Evil Trailer Park Biddies Cost Kerry the Presidency?

Viva Las Vegas! Almost. (Actually, to be completely accurate, I should say beautiful, downtown Henderson) where ACT (Americans Coming Together) has put me up in a lovely Super 8 Motel, just down the street from Sam's Town and the freeway. Hey things, could be worse. They've been stacking the volunteers up like cordwood in most of the rooms, putting 4 to a room (with 2 beds), but the housing coordinator took pity on my poor aging soul and let me slip into a room all by myself, although I expect this to change as more volunteers start arriving.

As most of you know, I'm here in Vegas through November 2nd to help get out the Democratic vote for Kerry. Nevada is a swing state, with Kerry and Bush in a statistical tie. What happens here in Vegas could make all the difference on Tuesday, so the city has become a kind of Ground Zero, with volunteers literally descending on the state from all over the country. Today, I found out ACT will be swarmed with over a thousand volunteers this weekend; that number is expected to double by Tuesday.

At this point, with voting registration now closed, ACT is concentrating on simply getting registered Democrats out to the polls. They've stopped trying to convince undecided voters or to sway Republicans into defecting for Kerry. All they want to do is make sure people actually go out to vote. So they're dispatching van loads of volunteers to canvas neighborhoods, going door to door to cajole people into going to the polls, letting them know where their polling places are and offering transportation if they need it. They'll do this today and every day through Tuesday. ACT expects to reach a 100,000 people in Clark County alone by the time this is all done.

All I can say is, be grateful California isn't a swing state.

A few highlights of the day:

I start the day by getting lost. It's been 7 years since I was in Vegas last and even with the map and directions, haven't a clue as to how to get to the staging area from the hotel. When I call the volunteer coordinator to get directions, he can't help me because he's not a local either. I wait on the phone for 5 minutes and listen to him ask around for help, trying to find anyone local who can give me directions. He can't. Everyone is from somewhere else. Eventually I figure it out for myself and make it in more or less on time.

After pulling into the parking lot, I get my first indication as to how huge this volunteer effort really is. There are hundreds of people lined up in front of the main tent, receiving paperwork and instructions. The parking lot is full of cars with out of state plates - not just California, but Arizona, Texas, Utah and even one from North Carolina. In another part of the lot, dozens of rented mini-vans are lined up ready to go. For the first time, I let myself hope, just a little, that maybe we can actually make a difference.

As I wait in line for my paperwork, I chat up a couple of women from San Jose who are volunteering for Planned Parenthood. A group of them had flown down just that morning. I look around and am amazed at the variety of people I see; middle aged white women from San Diego, local Black and Latino union organizers, college students in costume, entire families (including children) volunteering together, aging hipsters and yuppie professionals. Everyone is fired up.

I'm assigned a van with six other volunteers. Before we get started, several of the van groups get together to receive some last minute training. While we wait for instructions, we decide to go around the circle and introduce ourselves and why we're there. While most of reasons are what you'd expect - they don't like Bush or the job he's doing, Iraq, jobs, etc....some of the reasons were just heartbreaking. One woman has a quadriplegic sister who's about to be dropped by her insurance carrier. Another woman was there because she was worried about her brother, a Marine in Iraq.

She said simply, "I'm here because I don't want him to die."

We pile into our van. One volunteer is the driver and acts as our "Team Leader", driving us to our assigned neighborhood and keeping in contact with us throughout the day, making sure we have enough water and food and just generally looking out for our well-being. The rest of us are divided into 3 teams of 2, with each team given specific streets and addresses. We're given a check sheet to write down information as we contact the people on our lists (have they already voted, do they plan to vote, do they need a ride, is it a bad address, were they not home, etc.....). We'll visit these addresses four times between now and Tuesday. Like I said before, be glad you don't live in a swing state.

Our group is assigned to the Desert Oasis trailer park in an unincorporated section of Clark County just east and south of the Vegas line. Incredibly enough, part of the trailer park is considered a "gated community". (more on that in a second ). Now, when I say "trailer park", I'm talking double-wides on cinderblocks, identical in every way except the paint jobs. Some trailers were in better shape than others, with lovely rose gardens and some really bizarre "lawn" art (my favorite was the ceramic squirrel impaled on the spikes of a barrel cactus). Others were in such bad shape I was afraid to step up on their porches for fear of going through the floor boards.

And dogs. Lots of dogs. All vicious beasties that weighed maybe 12 pounds soaking wet.

Everyone we met was great. No undecided voters here, Bush needed to go.

The trouble started when we stopped in a little park to eat our lunch. After we were there for about half an hour, we see a head of blue hair poke out around a retaining wall to stare at us. A few minutes later, another. Then another. Then one of the Blue Hair women walk up to us and says, "You can't be here. You're trespassing."

Thinking she meant the park, we thanked her, packed up our lunches, and moved on to canvas the rest of the neighborhood. After about 5 minutes, a very elderly, very large, very angry African-American gentleman rode up in a pick up truck, got out and stood in front of us. "What the hell are you doing here?", he demanded.

So we gave him our spiel about getting out the vote, which did not impress him at all. "I don't care what you're doing. You can't be here. No soliciting. Don't you understand English?"

Hearing these words come out of an elderly Black man, at this particular time in history, was, well.........a little disorienting. So we tried to explain ourselves again. Again, he said "Don't you understand English? You're soliciting! Get the hell out of here before I call the cops!"

By this time, he was joined by a very tall, very elderly, and yes, very angry White gentleman who informed us he was Head of Security at Desert Oasis. Again, we tried to explain ourselves. Mr. Angry Black Man turned to Mr. Angry Head-of-Security White Man and said, "They don't understand English!", to which Mr. Angry Head-of-Security White Man replied "They surely don't. I'll say that much."

By this time, the same Blue Haired Biddies we had seen in the park (which I had started to now think of as the Evil Blue Haired Biddies) had formed a small gaggle behind the menfolk. At this point, I spoke up, looking directly at Mr. Angry Black Man, "Listen, I respect you concerns, but we have a Constitutional right to be here. We're not soliciting. We're not selling anything. We're not even trying to convince anyone who to vote for. We're just trying to remind people to vote and to let them know where their polling place is and to offer them rides if they need one. If you have a problem, call the authorities and we'll straighten this out. I mean, let's be reasonable, you want people to vote don't you? You're going to vote, aren't you?"

You would have thought I suggested the man sleep with his granddaughter. Mr. Angry Black Man just went ballistic, "Why would I vote? What the hell would I do something like that for! Get the hell out of here, don't you understand English? How can you tell people to vote? You can't even speak English!"

And so with that, operating under the principal that it's better to beg forgiveness than ask permission, we continued on, hoping to get to the last 15 houses on our list. Which is when the police cruiser showed up.

Now, to be fair to the police officer, he was a perfect gentleman about the whole thing, he even rolled his eyes and told us he gets a lot of calls from Dessert Oasis. But he made it very clear we shouldn't be there. Yes, we a Constitutional right to free speech, but the entire trailer park - even the paved streets - was private property. I asked what he could do if we chose to stay.

"Nothing. But if those gentlemen over there," he said pointing to Mr. Angry Black Man and Mr. Angry Head-of-Security White Man, "chose to perform a Citizen's arrest, I'll be obligated to assist them."

That pretty much ended our canvassing activities for the day.

So folks, if when Tuesday rolls around, and Nevada finds itself going for Bush by a scant 15-vote margin, I can direct you to a certain trailer park full of evil Blue-Haired Biddies in Vegas that will have a great deal to answer for.

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